COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Maryland junior safety Zach Dancel is lot more close-cropped since the last time the media met with him in spring camp. His trademark flowing locks, all 15 inches of them, he cut off late in the spring, and, fittingly for the always giving Dancel, donated it to "Locks of Love" for women with cancer needing wigs. He had been growing the mane for two-and-a-half years.
If there is a good cause around College Park, bank on the popular junior from Good Counsel (Olney, Md.) to be in the middle of it.
"Lift for Life" each summer for cystic fibrosis, the "TerpThon" event for chronically sick children, and the "Best Buddies Walk" -- Dancel is a ringleader at all.
"I try to get out as much as I can to charity and community events because of my background. Being raised by my parents, they have always given back, they have always helped out. That's just how I have been raised so I look forward to doing that and helping out," Dancel said Sept. 17.
The 6-foot, 205-pound Dancel leads on and off the field, as the Finance major was on the Dean's List every semester last year, too, though he won't tell you that.
"I feel he's a guy that everyone gets along with him. Zach doesn't have a beef with anybody, he's a great guy, he is very outgoing," said Terps junior guard Andrew Zeller. "I think he is a leader because there are so many people, younger guys and even the older guys, who look up to him. He is one of those role model types."
On the field, Dancel is the first safety off the bench for the Terps, and has seen his playing time expand more and more in extra-man packages against spread offenses often. And that won't change this week at Syracuse as the Terps head back out on the road.
Dancel has five tackles, one breakup and one tackle-for-a-loss on the season so far. After three years in defensive coordinator Brian Stewart's system, his knowledge of the playbook and system has allowed him to play faster this season. He's also up 10 pounds since a year ago. He redshirted after transferring from New Mexico, and then was injured, but has now hit his stride. He's become one of the smartest and defendable Terps on defense and special teams as well.
"Really, it's just it's my third year being in the system so I am just a lot more comfortable being the same system," Dancel said. "I can read a lot quicker, I know my playbook, so the way I see my development is my maturity within the system."
Dancel came in last week after the Terps went with more dime packages against West Virginia, which helped stop some of the bleeding in the secondary. Third downs, third-and-longs, he logged about 25 plays and helped turn the tide to slow the Mountaineers somewhat in the second half.
"We just have to take that loss to West Virginia as a lesson, learn from it, can't harp on it too much because you don't want to affect the upcoming game against Syracuse," Dancel said. "Just every unit, we've got to make our reads faster than we were against West Virginia. They countered with the screen but we should have picked up on but actually we didn't. So we are practicing on that in practice this week and trying to get better."
Syracuse quarterback Terrell Hunt (6-3, 234 pounds) is a big weapon and is running a very efficient offense for the 2-0 Orange. They run spread and some zone read, and can get downhill with their big backs.
Said Terps defensive coordinator and secondary coach Brian Stewart:
"I think he has done a good job studying, just knowing what he is supposed to do," Stewart said of Dancel. "And it's important to him. A lot of kids, they take it for granted they are a college athlete. He doesn't. It's important to him, he studies, he wants to do the right thing, be at the right place at the right time. And it's starting to show, it's starting to pay dividends for him."
"He's one of those guys you will see him in the meeting room after practice you know, correcting himself, just going through all his plays, so if he can find things that he can correct himself on so he can becomes a better player. He's always doing that."
Dancel said secondary players jumping out to him most are sophomore Will Likely and junior safety Sean Davis who "is just all over the field. Everyone can see that," Dancel said.
Dancel said his half-brother, Wes Brown, is determined this week in practice to bounce back after a week on the sidelines due to a coaches' decision suspension last week against WVU.
"He's doing well. He's working his butt off," Dancel said. "He wasn't happy about our outcome of last week, so he is doing everything that he can to pick up for what happened last week and to go out this week and do his best. He took last week as a sign that he needs to work harder, get in his playbook, and that's exactly what he's doing."
Dancel, who plays on three of four Terps special teams units, said it's all about the team:
"For me, anyway I can contribute for the team to help the team, whether it be special teams, whether it be dime, whether it just be a voice on the sideline, I take all that pretty seriously. Because my big thing is I hate losing and I will do anything that I can to help the team be better and win the game. Whether it's studying film, talking to the guys in the film room, whether it's being on field talking to the guys, as long as we're communicating we'll be good."
And Dancel hasn't forgotten his roots, regularly getting (and sending) texts before and after Good Counsel games to the coaches with best wishes. Come the Terps' bye week, he will be watching them live for the first time this season. He's at College Park with four Good Counsel alums or old teammates: Brown, Stefon Diggs, Jesse Aniebonam and Drew Stefanelli. His parents, Bernie and Connie Dancel, have been with him football-wise every step of the way. Bernie Dancel was an assistant coach at Good Counsel during Zach's years at the Olney school, while he also adopted Wes Brown, who lived with the Dancels in Howard County for several years.
Dancel Leaving A Mark On And Off The Field
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